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FLASHBACK: TALES FROM THE PALANQUIN

September 09, 2018

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Bahar (left) bidding farewell to the bride in Saheli as their friends sing ‘Mukhre Pe Sehra Dale ...’
Bahar (left) bidding farewell to the bride in Saheli as their friends sing ‘Mukhre Pe Sehra Dale ...’

If there is one genre of music in Urdu/Hindi movies that has remained popular for all times, then it is undoubtedly songs relating to weddings. In the West, marriages and the ceremonies related to tying of nuptial bonds are relatively mundane. In our part of the world they run for days, from sending a proposal, its acceptance, engagement, mehndi rites (both at the bride’s and the groom’s houses), to nikah and the departure of the young (sometimes middle-aged) lady to her husband’s house.

In the West, where not all girls stay with their parents, they don’t have to face the grief experienced by their counterparts of leaving ‘babul ka ghar’ (father’s house) and ‘maika’ (maternal home), as in our part of the world. The separation, on the one hand from one’s parents, siblings, other close relatives and, at the same time, the fear of the unknown (read susraal) is a theme on which several geets have been penned.

One of the finest exponents of the theme happens to be ‘Pi ke ghar aaj piyari dulhanya chali’, which was recorded in the voices of Shamshad Begum and chorus girls. The plaintive number was written by Shakeel Badayuni and soulfully composed by Naushad for Mehboob Khan’s 1957 classic, Mother India. It is played in the background as Nargis leaves her inconsolable parents, particularly the father, and goes with her groom Raj Kumar to his house in a different village.

Another song with the same theme happens to be ‘Babul ki duaen leti ja’. Soaked in pathos, Rafi’s rendition is matched by the despondent body language of Balraj Sahni, who enacts the role of the father. The song, written by Sahir Ludhianvi and composed by Ravi, is played in the background in Neel Kamal (1968). The scenes where the devastated father bids farewell to his daughter, who too is steeped in sorrow, are heart-wrenching.

Wedding songs will always stay in vogue, from past gems to present compositions, when it comes to nuptial celebrations in this part of the world

Years later we see a grief-stricken father in the movie Lajja (2001), though not portrayed half as intensely as Balraj Sahni did, during the picturisation of the song ‘Mujhe sajan ke ghar jana hai’ ‘sung’ by a friend of the bride. The song written by Sameer and composed by Anu Malik has been sung by Alka Yagnik. The classical dance is visually exciting and the accompanying song catchy.

A very different viewpoint is expressed in the lovely song and dance recorded in the voices of Lata and chorus girls, and led by a charming Nutan when she warbles ‘Mein tou chhorr chali babul ka des, piya ka ghar piyara lage’ in a now almost forgotten movie — Saraswatichandra (1968). In the lines penned by Indivar and composed by Kalyanji-Anandji, the recently-wedded wife says that the parents-in-law are like her own parents and that she has been showered with affection in her new home too.

Back to babul. In 1951 a Nargis-Dilip-Munawwar Sultana starrer, Babul,with its title song rendered by Shamshad Begum and chorus girls, ‘Chhorr babul ka ghar chali pi ke nagar, hit the screen. Towards the end of the movie, a jubilant Nargis, happy that Munawwar Sultana was being married elsewhere leaving her beloved Dilip Kumar all to herself, climbs a tree to watch the baraat and in the process falls down. The injury sustained by her is fatal. Dilip Kumar picks her up and ‘sings’ the same song, while resting her head on his shoulder and her body against his chest, in the voice of Talat Mehmood.

There is no occasion related to engagements and marriages when floral patterns of henna are not to be seen on the hands of young and old women.

In films, the term babul was first heard in 1938 when K.L. Saigal recorded the thumri bhairvin ‘Babul mora naihar chhooto jaye’ . R.C. Boral gets the credit for composing the plaintive number. It was written by the Nawab of Oudh Wajid Ali Shah, who used the term babul and naihar (maternal home) symbolically when the colonial power banished him from Lucknow in 1856 and forced him to settle down in faraway Calcutta.

Way back in the 14th century the Sufi saint, poet and musician Amir Khusro wrote and composed his immortal geet ‘Kahe ko biyahi bides’. F.A. Karim Fazli’s movie Chiragh Jalta Raha (1962) featured the folk number in the voices of Iqbal Bano and chorus girls. Strangely, it is not available on YouTube, though later the folk song was used in several Indian movies.

A mehndi song scene from Javed Jabbar’s bilingual film Beyond the Last Mountain and its Urdu version Musafir
A mehndi song scene from Javed Jabbar’s bilingual film Beyond the Last Mountain and its Urdu version Musafir

On our side of the border, in 1976, Javed Jabbar making the first ever English film in Pakistan, Beyond the Last Mountain, got Sohail Rana to add the tune as an introductory piece which merged with the song‘Hari hari mehndi ke neeche hai surkh gulab’. The easy-on-the-lips song was penned by the noted poet of that period, Obaidullah Aleem, and was also included in the Urdu version — Musafir — which was shot simultaneously.

While on mehndi, there is no occasion related to engagements and marriages when floral patterns of henna are not to be seen on the hands of young and old (women, of course!). The word mehndi finds a place in film songs in profusion. One of the earliest hit songs that this writer can recall is ‘Gore gore hathon mein mehndi racha ke’ which was the prime song of Bimal Roy’s Parineeta (1953). Written by Bharat Vyas and set to music by Arun Kumar Mukherjee, the chorus was led by a vivacious Asha Bhosle.

A solo rendered by Nahid Akhtar for the Pakistani film Koshish (1976) scored by M. Ashraf ‘Mehndi rache gi mere haath’ picturised on Mumtaz and Nadeem, is catchy but visually the song and dance are quite disappointing.

But what is impressive in every sense of the word is A.R. Rahman’s mehndi song from the 2001 flick Zubeidaa (2001) ‘Mehndi hai rachne wali’, recorded in the voice of Alka Yagnik. It was beautifully penned by Javed Akhtar. Directed by Shyam Benegal, the song situation shows that Karisma Kapoor is most unwilling to have mehndi applied on her hands. Part of a trilogy, Zubeidaa, written by Khalid Mohammed, is worth seeing.

Back to mehndi, the title song of Mehndi Lagi Mere Haath (1962) filmed on Nanda, rendered by Lata, written by Anand Bakshi and composed by Kalyanji-Anandji, was quite a rage in the sixties. It is worth a dekko on YouTube.

Undoubtedly, the most popular mehndi song to date is ‘Mehndi laga ke rakhna’ from the longest-running Indian movie — Dilwale Dulhanya Le Jayenge (1995). The duet, written by Anand Bakshi, was recorded by Jatin Lalit in the voices of Lata and Udit Narayan. One thing notable about the song situation is that it is being sung to a bride (Kajol) at her mehndi ceremony by her secret lover (Shah Rukh Khan), and as such is a subversion of the traditional meaning of a mehndi song.

Another word which occurs quite frequently is sehra and the first song that comes to this writer’s mind is from Saheli (1960) — ‘Mukhre pe sehra daale aaja o aaney waley’. Written by Fayyaz Hashmi, the song was composed by A. Hameed, for director S.M. Yousuf, whose first film it happened to be after migrating from Bombay. Shamim Ara is the bride to appear on the screen and, if I remember correctly, it was at the cost of her saheli, Nayyar Sultana, who was also the loser in yet another film Baaji.

In that film she lost Darpan to Zeba. The song showed her sitting with the bride while the semi-classical number ‘Sajan lagi tori lagan mun ma’, recorded in the voices of Noor Jehan and Farida Khanum, was being ‘sung’ by Amy Minwalla and Pannah, who also performed the classical dance. A fact not many would know is that the accomplished Indian tabla nawaz Ustad Allah Rakha, who was visiting Lahore was booked to give rhythmic support to the song and dance. Needless to say, he lived up to his reputation. The composers were Saleem-Iqbal. Ahmed Rahi wrote some fine lyrics in this film. Back to Nayyar Sultana, she may have lost Darpan twice on the screen but poetic justice prevailed in real life and, to use a convenient cliché, they lived happily ever after.

In the context of visual beauty, one cannot ignore the song ‘Surkh jorre ki jagmagahat’ from Kabhi Kabhi (1976). It shows Rakhee as a bride, while the groom waiting for her is Shashi Kapoor and the devastated lover, watching from the side is Amitabh Bachchan. The song was written as beautifully as Sahir Ludhianvi always did and its scintillating music was scored by Khayyam.

A few years back in time, Mohammed Rafi did a remarkable job when he rendered the title song of ‘Chaudhvin Ka Chand’ soulfully and won awards. In the same film he changed his voice and also recorded ‘Mera yaar bana hai dulha’ for Johnny Walker.

Among the most watched wedding songs on YouTube — close to 70 million hits so far — is ‘Didi tera dewar deewana’ from the Salman Khan-Madhuri Dixit starrer Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994). Composed by Raam Laxman, written by Dev Kohli and recorded in the voices of Lata Mangeshkar and Balasubramanyam, this number is still played in a huge number of marriage functions in India.

That wedding songs haven’t gone out of vogue is proved by the popularity of ‘Navraj majhi’(whatever it means) from the movie English Vinglish (2012). It was composed by Amit Trivedi and the lyrics written by Swanand Kirkire. What makes this film notable is that it was among the last two or three Sridevi starrers, before she left the world (not just the film world).

One last point: in my column on mujras, I regret having given credit to Lata Mangeshkar for the songs of Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jan. The melodious mujras were sung by her younger sister Asha Bhosle. That the credit remains in the family is no excuse.

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 9th, 2018